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What the Artist Saw: Art Inspired by the Life and Work of Joe Orton

Joe Orton image by Stewy


What the Artist Saw: Art Inspired by the Life and Work of Joe Orton
28 July - 22 October 2017 
New Walk Museum & Art Gallery

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton, an exhibition of contemporary art commissions inspired by Orton’s life and legacy. Featuring work by David Lock, Louise Plant, Stewy, Danielle Vaughan and Tim Youd. 

Joe Orton (1933-1967) was a major twentieth century British playwright. August 9th commemorates the 50th anniversary of his death in 1967.

Born in Leicester, Orton grew up in poverty on the Saffron Lane housing estate and worked in local factories before winning a place at RADA, the country’s foremost drama school. There, he met Kenneth Halliwell, the man with whom he would spend the rest of his life. Halliwell became Orton’s partner, mentor and murderer.

Orton’s anarchic black comedies Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964), Loot (1965) and What the Butler Saw (1969) satirised the Establishment and helped to define the Swinging Sixties. Associated with the new youth movement and counterculture, Orton was photographed with the model Twiggy, commissioned to write a screenplay for The Beatles and lauded by fellow playwright Harold Pinter as ‘a bloody marvellous writer’. His plays outraged polite society and left an indelible mark on British theatre.

A working class rebel, Orton recorded his contempt for the ‘lousy gin-drinking class’ and ‘chinless wonders from our noble houses’ in the diary he kept during the last year of his remarkable life. His frank and fearless account of homosexuality before decriminalisation in 1967 has made him a gay icon.

The exhibition presents new responses to Orton’s life and work through art, inspired by Orton’s own interest in the relationship between writing, painting, sculpture and collage.

This exhibition, curated by Emma Parker (University of Leicester) and Michael Petry (MOCA).